Guardiola, Villas-Boas, Capello & the coaches who are hovering over Ranieri's shoulder at Inter

Just under a month ago, the Roman was being lauded as a tactical genius after overseeing an eighth straight win but now he is facing the axe after a poor run of form
By Mark Doyle

Football, as is often said, is a funny old game - but Claudio Ranieri is no doubt struggling to see its humourous side at the moment.

Just under a month ago, the Roman was being lauded as a tactical genius, the man who had saved Inter's season. When he arrived at San Siro last October, the Nerazzurri were flirting with relegation and in total disarray after Gian Piero Gasperini's chaotic five-game tenure.

Ranieri immediately brought some solidity to the side and gradually restored the confidence of players who had looked utterly lost under Gasperini. When Diego Milito rediscovered his shooting boots just before the winter break, Inter began to look a real force again and their 1-0 triumph over city rivals AC Milan in the Derby della Madonnina was their sixth win in succession in Serie A, prompting giddy talk of a title challenge.

However, after Inter extended their winning streak with a victory over Lazio the following weekend, the wheels have since come off - quite spectacularly. After being dumped out of the Coppa Italia by Napoli, Inter lost away to lowly Lecce, drew 4-4 with Palermo at San Siro and then suffered a complete breakdown against Roma a fortnight ago, losing 4-0 to the Giallorossi at the Stadio Olimpico.

It was hoped that a semblance of order and a sliver of morale would be restored against basement boys Novara last weekend but the Nerazzurri slumped to a dismal 1-0 defeat at home to the promoted side. Gasperini had lost his job after defeat by Novara earlier in the season; Ranieri is now fighting to save his after losing to the same opposition.

Indeed, speculation is rife that if Ranieri fails to steady the ship and secure qualification for next season's Champions League, he will be on his way come the end of the season. There has even been talk that he could be removed from his position before then if this worrying dip in form is not arrested promptly.

So, if Ranieri is axed, just who will Inter turn to? evaluates the merits of the leading contenders below ...

‘Le President’ is not the most experienced candidate available, having only been in charge of Bordeaux for a couple of seasons before taking over France in the summer of 2010.

However, he is fondly remembered at San Siro after spending two seasons with the Nerazzurri before his surprise switch to Manchester United in 2001.

In addition, he has done a fine job with les Bleus, having restored unity and belief to a squad that had shamefully gone on strike during their 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa. The results have been good, too. And Blanc currently boasts the fourth best win percentage in the country’s history.

In this light, one would imagine that it would be difficult to prise him away from France but this is not the case. Blanc’s current contract with the French Football Federation (FFF) expires after Euro 2012 and it is becoming increasingly likely that he will not be offered a new one. Indeed, there have been rumours that FFF president Noel Le Graet is keen to see the back of the former sweeper.

Alain Boghossian, Blanc’s assistant, has already claimed that some of the top clubs in Europe are keen on hiring the 46-year-old. It would not be in the least bit surprising if Inter were one of the interested parties.

When Fabio Capello sensationally stepped down as England manager earlier this month, it took less than 24 hours for his name to be mentioned in connection with the Inter job.

So strong were the rumours, in fact, that Nerazzurri president Massimo Moratti was forced to issue a statement insisting that Capello was not bound for San Siro. Nobody believed him.

While the English media never warmed to the Italian – and vice versa – Capello remains one of the most respected coaches in the game and his record in Serie A is exceptional. He has won seven titles in total: four with AC Milan, with whom he also lifted the Champions League; two with Juventus, though both were later revoked because of Calciopoli; and one with Roma.

A strict disciplinarian, Capello is very much his own man, as evidenced by his resignation from his England post, and always wants things done his way. As a result, it is not difficult to foresee him clashing with Moratti. In addition, Capello stated last month that he would never take charge of Inter because he remains a Milan fan at heart.

One imagines, though, that if Inter came calling in the summer, Capello would find it very difficult to turn down the opportunity to resume his coaching career with one of the biggest clubs in Italy.

There is a real feeling within Italian footballing circles that Pep Guardiola will be Inter’s next boss. Whether that is more wishful thinking than educated guesswork is hard to say.

Those that cover Serie A are certainly desperate for the Barcelona boss to take up residence in Milan, as evidenced by the debate sparked on Premium Calcio's 'Champions League Live' show by the ‘Inter’ scarf worn by the Spaniard during Tuesday night’s Champions League win in Leverkusen.

While that discussion was utterly ridiculous, it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that Guardiola could be coaching Inter next season. The former midfielder, who had a short stint with Brescia during his playing days, is out of contract at the end of the season and is remaining tight-lipped on whether he will sign a new one.

Barcelona are understandably desperate for him to remain at Camp Nou given that Guardiola has led the club to a staggering 13 trophies since replacing Frank Rijkaard at the helm in 2008. However, there is a suspicion that the former Barca B team coach is ready to undertake a new challenge abroad – and coaching Inter would most definitely be challenging.

It was no secret that Gasperini was not exactly Inter’s first choice to succeed Leonardo as coach last summer. Moratti tried to lure a number of more high-profile figures to the Giuseppe Meazza before eventually settling for the former Genoa boss. One of those figures was Andre Villas-Boas.

The then-Porto trainer ultimately ended up taking charge of Chelsea but there is now a very real chance that Jose Mourinho’s protégé will follow a similar career path.

Unlike Mourinho, Villas-Boas has struggled to get to grips with the English game and, with the Blues currently in real danger of failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League, there is mounting speculation that the 34-year-old is operating on borrowed time.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich paid a small fortune to bring Villas-Boas to Stamford Bridge but you can be sure that the ruthless Russian billionaire will have no qualms about handing over a lucrative severance package if he feels that the club would be best served by a change of leadership.

In addition, while Villas-Boas’ reputation as one of the brightest young tacticians in the game today has taken a battering this season, he would be welcomed with open arms at Inter.

It is fair to say that Villas-Boas’ mentor, Mourinho, would also be given a warm welcome at San Siro if he elected to rejoin the Nerazzurri in the summer. Admittedly, it seems unlikely but stranger things have happened.

It was claimed only last month that the Portuguese, who has been made to feel less than special by certain sections of the Santiago Bernabeu this term, has already decided to leave the Spanish capital at the end of the season.

However, even if he does depart, it seems highly likely that he would return to England rather than Italy.

Mourinho has repeatedly stated that he feels he has unfinished business in the Premier League and he has been heavily linked with succeeding the seemingly England-bound Harry Redknapp as Tottenham boss in recent days.

However, the 'Special One' remains an avid observer of all the comings and goings at Inter - much to the annoyance of his successors - and a return to San Siro cannot be discounted.